[The Daily News, 8. Dezember 1868]

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The Daily News. Nr. 7052, 8. Dezember 1868. S. 2.
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THE AGRICULTURAL LABOURER.—VI. TECHNICAL EDUCATION.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY NEWS.

Dec 8. Anmerkung von Jenny Marx

SIR,—Before entering upon the special topic which I have reserved for this letter—technical education—let me say a word with reference to an observation in my last, in which I stated that “where there is a superabundance of labourers in any particular district, a migration from one part of the country to another is doubtless desirable.” I am led to recur to this observation, because I find in an interesting and able article in the Edinburgh Review that the writer takes the same view and declares that” a migration of labour from the overstocked to the dearer market is the proper mode of rectifying the balance.” I think it right to say that this conclusion should be accepted with reservation, for however desirable it may be to encourage migration at certain seasons, there is not an agricultural district in Great Britain where a scarcity of hands exists all the year round. From autumn wheat sowing, ending in November, to spring bean sowing, beginning in February, there is an interim when there are sufficient hands in all districts to do the work of the period. At such time the importation of additional labourers would have the effect of lowering the price of labour below what it ought to be, and below what it now is, for it would be contrary to common sense to suppose that any farmer who has at one time to pay for his labour perhaps more than its real value, would at another offer eager applicants for work higher wages than they are willing to take. The migration of labourers from one agricultural district to another should, therefore, be seasonal, and with the power of locomotion afforded by railways there is no reason why it should not be of that character. It will have been observed in the statistics which I gave in my last letter, that among the purely agricultural counties in which the population has declined, there are those which are considered to be the very best farmed counties in England. I refer to Lincolnshire and Norfolk, where the average of weekly (money) wages is 13s. per week. In those counties, consisting chiefly of tillage farms, labourers are often scarce at certain seasons. At harvest additional hands are wanted to supply the place of the Irishmen who, before the potato famine, were accustomed to congregate there. At such time the benefit of importing the surplus labourers of the grass counties of the west would be great, but if it led to permanent settlement that benefit would be counteracted by the evil which would arise from excess of supply during the winter months. For many generations past it has been the custom for the surplus labourers of the eastern counties to travel “up country” at hay time, and return with money in their pockets, in good time for corn harvest at home. This practice still continues, showing that seasonal migration is practicable. To make an increase of farm wages permanent, not only must the migration of surplus hands be regulated by reference to all branches of industry and the demands of seasons, but the labour itself must be made more valuable to the employer; and this is the point to which may observations will now be directed.

Reverting to the subject of education; it will hardly be believed that, in spite of all that has been said on the subject in recent years, the children of the agricultural labourer leave school earlier now than they did a few years back. Such, however, is the case. While one boy remains at school till |10 the age of thirteen, three will leave at the age of ten, the parents being fully satisfied that they have done their duty if their children can only read and write a little, and do a sum of addition. The accomplishment of writing is valued much higher than either reading or cyphering, as it is tangible evidence of ability in itself, which can be turned to good account directly an opportunity is found. If a lad is wanted at the village shop, or in the doctor’s surgery, or at the squireʼs stables, the bit of writing is the first thing shown by the parent. Should he be unable to furnish this passport to attention he is consigned to the farm either as a bird-keeper, crow-clapper, plough-boy, pig-keeper, cowman’s boy, or shepherd’s boy, it matters not which, nor how little or much he does in either capacity; one day he is kicked and cuffed by the ploughman the next by the herdsman, and the third by the shepherd, or he is sent with the pigs in search of acorns and finds himself under the hedge picking blackberries. It is true he may exercise his voice in singing while bird-keeping, but as this involves an effort he only does it when he sees his master coming. This literally and truly has been, and still is, the occupation of nearly every village boy during that time of his life when his mind is most susceptible of useful impressions. Though not altogether idle his mind is an empty one.

He sauntered on, not knowing what he sought,
and whistled as he went, for want of thought.

It is possible that the budding labourer can thus fit himself for earning higher wages than his father did? Can he “better himself” in agriculture under such a system as this? I contend that the system can be readily altered, and that a boy intended to be brought up as an agricultural labourer can serve a species of apprenticeship, first in one department, for a time sufficient to qualify him fully in it, and then in another, if it be necessary to fit himself for more descriptions of servitude than one. Hitherto we have appeared to think that with the farm operative it has not been necessary he should learn his business, but seeing that a little time back the generality of farmers themselves were little better taught than labourers are now, it may not be long before we look at matters very differently. One of the resolutions passed at the meetting held at Willis’s Rooms on the 21st of March last was to the effect “that as one means of raising the agricultural labourer from his present depressed condition, it is desirable to form district protection societies;” or in other words, to form labourer’s unions; and it was assumed that the proper elements existed upon which to base them. Now, what is the case? In all the better trades’ societies in the country the first rule is that “no one shall be admitted unless he possesses good abilities as a workman,” and the next “that he shall not work for less than the average rate of wages paid to members in the same branch of trade in which he is employed.” The quality of work regulates the price above the average, but not below. In fact, there is no restriction on wages for superior work, though there is positive veto to any man’s taking less than the average price of labour (prevailing outside the union), let the value of that labour be what it may. A workman for instance may gain 30s. per week though the mean rate of wages in the district is only 18s., but he must not take work at less wages than this latter amount. It is thus in these free trade times, when meat and bread has been reduced to the lowest cost by open competition, that trade operatives maintain the price of labour by a dictation which would appear to be opposed to every principle of national economy. The justification of trade combinations formed upon such grounds as these is, that the members have each had to pay a premium as an apprentice, and may have worked five or seven years at a merely nominal rate of wage to acquire a knowledge of their art, and that, therefore, they have a right to assume that they have those good qualities as workmen which will sanction their demanding at least the average rate of wages paid to members of the same branch of trade as themselves who have not been placed under the same test of ability. The act of apprenticeship is, in truth, the very basis of unions, and if protective societies are to be supported at all in agriculture, this crucial requirement must be acknowledged and acted upon. The demand for higher wages without regard to capabilities cannot be maintained by any species of reason; and if labour is to be made worth more money to an employer, it can only be done by means of technical—i.e., practical—instruction in early life, which is in other words an apprenticeship. To say that because a labourer does not earn enough to satisfy himself and his family he must necessarily be paid more, without proving that his employer can afford to pay it, is irrational, and to expect that any farmer will increase the wages he pays upon the mere presumption that with more money to be spent in food (bad beer?) he will get more work, amounts to an absurdity only to be equaled by the statement that the labourer of the farm requires only physical strength to perform his duties in the most profitable manner. If physical strength was the only measure of a labourer’s capability, the means of improvement would be simple. Nourishing food would be all that would be required, and certainly good wholesome meat and drink do much to increase the powers of all hard-working men, but it is too frequently found, when mind does not act upon matter, that the strongest men lose their strength in carelessness and idleness, and bring themselves to a level with the weakest. The truth of this may be observed every day in the farmers’ fields. Let a man be of what bodily strength he may, with a very small amount of intelligence, acting upon a good will, the labour of a weak and small man will be of the same value as that of a strong and big man. If the exertions of both are maintained by good beef or mutton, instead of being lowered by that miserable, pernicious compound of the village miscalled “beer,” each will do more work; but I question whether any improvement by such means, uninfluenced by intelligence of mind, will be equal in value to the extra cost of the meat. This was shown during the cotton famine, when, at the instigation of Mr. Tollemache, the member for Cheshire, a number of factory hands were employed in drainage works on his estate. When they first took the graft in their hands they could make no progress, and a great many of the stronger men refused to proceed; but some few of the more intelligent formed themselves into gangs, and soon earned as much money as the more practiced hands, although they were inferior specimens of physical strength. In my daily practice I have found that though good food maintains physical ability, when there is a will to work, good practical example—which is technical instruction—has much greater effect. For many years past I have adopted the weekly wage of 20s. as the basis of payment to the able-bodied labourers employed by the General Land Drainage and Improvement Company, and system upon which I have proceeded has been to make the earnings of a few good practiced bands of medium capability the data for paying all other hands. The price of piecework is generally fixed by the foreman of the works at such an amount as to apportion to the standard men from 16s. to 20s. a week according to the length of the day after paying for the repair of tools. While these wages are earned by them, the local labourers at commencement will seldom earn more than from 10s. to 12s. at the very time that the best hands will be gaining from 20s. to 24s. Gradually, however as the local men learn the proper use of their tools, get technical instruction from those about them, and take a pride in their work, they improve, and ultimately obtain the same wages. I can illustrate this fact by a striking case. In the year 1852 I had the control of some extensive drainage works in Dorsetshire. Wages in the district were from 7s. to 9s. a week. Impressed that such pay was inconsistent with suitable labour, I imported some north countrymen from Northumberland practiced in draining, to afford an example to such local men as chose to enter the trenches. I guaranteed to the northern men a minimum of 18s. a week, although I could have obtained the services of as many Dorsetshire men as I desired to employ at half that price. Many local labourers entered upon the work, and as soon as they knew what the north countrymen were getting and saw the character of the work executed by them, they applied all their energies in imitation. At first they took to bear and cider as a means of gaining strength, but they soon saw their error and imitated the northern men by taking to good meat and bread instead of an excess of drink. Eventually by the example afforded them—the technical education given by the Northumberland men—and by the effect of improved food, the despised Dorsetshire men were enabled to earn as much as their teachers, and it was not long before I actually removed them into the North of England to compete with Yorkshiremen in their own county, and the first place at which they were engaged was Swine, in Holderness, where there did not exist a public-house or beer-shop in the village. But perhaps the best illustration of the effect of practical instruction in conjunction with good food is to be found in the British navvy, who is really nothing more than a superior agricultural labourer. While making the railway in the Crimea during the late war the navvies received in rations twenty ounces of bread, twenty ounces of meat, two ounces of peas, two ounces of rice, one and three-quarter ounces of coffee, and four ounces of rum, and it will be readily understood how such food, given under special circumstances, supported the energies called into activity by the force of example and judicious organization. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that the genuine navvy is an illiterate brawler capable only of great physical exertions, as I have heard stated. On the contrary, there is not a more respectable labourer, and I question whether among the trade operatives, who are generally considered his superior, there exists greater intrepidity, perseverance, coolness, and courage, than is to be found in the sturdy navvy. Those men who disgrace the class by drunkenness are village vagrants in the glow of life, who leave their own parish for railways and public works under the false notion that they can get higher wages for the same amount of exertion and intel-|11ligence as that which they applied to farm work at home. When the better-minded men have found their mistake and made use of their capabilities they make as good workmen as the older hands, and eventually earn from 15s. to 20s. a week and more, instead of 9s. or 10s.

Returning to agriculture; there is not a farmer in the country who, be he engaged in sheep farming, in dairying, in tillage, or in mixed farming, does not know the superior value of a labourer well acquainted with special duties, and I assert that there is not any branch of work connected with either description of farming that does not require learning before it can be practiced perfectly, and which would not be better learnt by a regular apprenticeship in youth than by the irregular system which now prevails. A shepherd, for instance, whose wages are 16s. a week, besides perquisites, is an essential labourer on most farms, and I venture to say that at this moment there is hardly any other description of agricultural service in which there are fewer capable men. A good shepherd, in fact, is one of the most difficult men to obtain, and the loss for want of them is very great. Again, good horsekeepers are almost as difficult to obtain as good shepherds. From my own experience I can say that the difference between a good horsekeeper and a bad one is not to be measured by the simple difference between scanty and liberal wages. Any one accustomed to horses knows immediately by the appearance or touch of their skins whether the man in charge of them knows his business, and he will confirm my opinion that any difference in wages will be more than counterbalanced by the saving in the corn which horses consume when well attended to, and the better service they obtain from them, compared with that gained when they are indifferently treated. The same remark will apply to the tending of neat stock. Speaking again from my own experience, I have found that cattle under the charge of a man who thoroughly understands them will fatten quicker, and in every respect do much better with less food than under a man who, from attempting indiscriminately all the duties of the farm, is master of none. In the minor matter of poultry, I have known many pounds lost by the want of proper treatment, and have found a labourer’s wife having special knowledge of the matter, with a small plot of ground raise more poultry than has been produced from a farm of several hundred acres.

If this be admitted to be the case with live stock, it will be unnecessary for me to point out the advantages of employing men in the use of implements who have taken pains to understand them. The loss sustained by farmers from their careless treatment is great. Few labourers know how to adjust them if they get out of order; and one who thoroughly understands the steam-engine so as to take charge of it when ploughing land or thrashing corn is indeed a prodigy in his parish. And why should we dread the purchase and use of steam-engines on our farms on the ground that we have not a labourer who could take care of them, when tuition in youth would supply the omission without difficulty? It is true that the implement makers now and then undertake to tutor a farm labourer in the management of the engine, if previously assured of his intelligence. This circumstance, while it shows how an individual difficulty may be overcome, must go some way to prove that technical education is to be attained in the lowest grade of agriculturists as in the more refined artisan class.

It would be tedious to pass through all the branches of a farmer’s business to show how technical knowledge in the labourer would apply. There is hardly an operation in tillage that would not be done better if the operator had thoroughly understood it in early life. Take the simple operations of ploughing, drilling, and sowing. Is not a good workman worth 1s. or 2s. more per week than a bad one? The same question may be asked as to hedging, ditching, draining and thatching, in which there is no comparison between an expert man and an unpracticed one. How, then, are these practices to be taught in youth? The only reasonable ground that parents have for keeping their children from school is the circumstance that, having hungry stomachs to fill and active bodies to clothe, they have not the means of providing for them without some assistance on the part of the children themselves; and so weighty is this excuse for sending them into the field instead of the school, that many authorities are led to doubt the policy of compulsory education, however limited it may be. What I would suggest is, that those children who are sent out to earn their food and clothes by labour should be placed in a situation on the farm to obtain fundamental technical knowledge, not one day doing one thing and the next another; but by putting them for a sufficient time under the shepherd, or the horsekeeper, or the stockkeeper, or the engineer, the hedger or the ditcher, the thatcher or the drainer, so that they may learn, as far as such labourers can teach them, their respective duties. There is no practical difficulty, though there may be some slight inconvenience, in the adoption of this plan. By it a youth employed on the farm would be systematically engaged, or I would rather say apprenticed, in one occupation until he has learned it thoroughly; and in order to encourage his master for the time being—that is, the shepherd, the dairyman, or the engineman—to teach him what he knows, a bonus or prize should be given to such as do that duty properly, the boys themselves receiving prizes, too, according to the knowledge they have acquired. It would not be long before the farmers took an interest in the system, for it would be the same with farm teachers, as it is with many other teachers, that they themselves would learn much while they were in the act of teaching, and then the farmers themselves would derive advantage from what would be going on. At the present moment the daughters of the agricultural labourer are far better taught as they grow into womanhood than are the sons in their approach to manhood, for as soon as they can go into service the farmers’ wives, for their own sakes, teach them the duties of the cook or the housemaid. The difficulty in the case of farm tuition would be in finding qualified examiners. Already throughout the country, in the autumn, we have matches in ploughing, ditching, and draining, and the interest the labourers take in the competitions may be accepted as some proof that, under proper control, competitive trial may be extended to farming youths engaged in various agricultural duties. Assuming that with the demand for examiners the supply was found, what is to prevent an examination of young shepherds in the practice of shearing sheep, or in the mode of treatment for foot-rot, fly, or tick, on the proper management of the ewe during the lambing time, the effects of different foods, and |12 the best means of diversifying food so as to secure health, and so forth? Why should not a ploughboy practically demonstrate the best way in which he would dress a horse, give him a ball, and treat him under certain ailments, prepare his food, drive a team, &c.? The same I would ask of all live stock, from a fowl to a bullock, and when we approach the matter of implements and their uses, the examination would ramify to almost an unlimited extent. And the like may be said with regard to all field operations, commencing with the preparation of the land for seed, and ending with the thrashing of the corn and the consumption of fodder. I believe it cannot be denied that technical knowledge obtained in youth—first, at school in the way indicated in my last letter, and next as an apprentice on the farm, as sketched out in this—will render the labourer not only able to earn higher wage, but will give him an interest in his calling which he will never lose. And this is what we must aim at in agriculture, if we would satisfy both the employer and the employed.

I will not at present trouble you further. At a future time I will, with your permission, make some remarks on provident institutions, by which the savings of the labourer may be turned to the best advantage. I have been content with drawing attention simply to the way in which his condition may be improved, and his capability of earning better wages increased.—I am, &c.,

J. BAILEY DENTON.
Stevenage.

Inhalt:

  • Social cases. 1869